Did you know that only a small percentage of seafood caught in Japan meets the international sustainable seafood guidelines? It is predicted that there will be large-scale negative growth in the Japanese fishing industry by 2025. Will the children of the 21st century be able to continue eating fish? Japan has one of the best ocean resources in the world. What should we do to ensure that the ocean remains intact for the future?
We need to learn from developed nations regarding sustainable seafood to improve Japan’s fisheries.
The world oceans are facing crisis today. For instance, one third of the mangrove swamps that can provide a habitat for small fish have disappeared. And coral reefs off the coast are predicted to become extinct by 2050. Some reports say that only 10% of large fish in the world are still remaining.
There are a lot of reasons for the decline of fish, with overfishing being one of the main. Fish naturally increase when they spawn in the oceans. So, there should be no problem as long as they can keep up an increasing pace. However, 90% of main fishing resources in the world are said to be in or nearly in a state of overfishing.
Fully-grown fish are fattened and tasty, so they can sell at higher price. However large dragnet fishing catches all the fish including those that are not fully-grown. It is said that the proportion of fish that are mixed in catch and discarded amount to 40%.
Though Japan is a small country, its exclusive economic zone is the sixth largest in the world. The merging Oyashio and Kuroshio currents provide a rich ecological system, which was the source of a rich food culture in Japan centering on fish. That may be why Japan did not fall into trouble without resources management in the ocean. However, it is different now. The catch is at barely one third of its peak. We simply cannot catch fish.
We can catch about 400 kinds of fish around Japan, of which about 50 kinds have been evaluated with their resources by the national government. Only seven kinds such as sardines and mackerel have limits set for catch by the national government. So-called advanced fishing nations including Norway, New Zealand and the U.S.A. conduct resources evaluation for many of the key fish for catch and manage resources based on the evaluation, while we do not even know what proportion of the many fish caught in Japan live in the ocean.
It is not only fish that is declining. Currently there are 150,000 personnel in the fishing industry, and many of them are over 65 years old with nobody to succeed them. The population is declining at a pace of about 10,000 annually. Maintained yet empty fishing ports dot the Japanese coasts due to the lack of fishing personnel.
The Fishing Law was revised for the first time in 70 years in order to solve the accumulated problems at the end of 2018, and “to secure sustainable use of fishing resources” was mentioned as an aim. Resource evaluation and reinforcing resource management is finally about to start in Japan.
Chefs change the society as influencers
A sustainable seafood market is developed in the principal countries of the western world, as well as a consumer culture where consumers do not buy uncertified fish. Companies are also aware that they need to be recognized in the society instead of merely pursuing profit.
Furthermore, chefs are powerful influencers in those countries. Unlike delivering condescending lectures with jargon, a movement comes into being where people feel it is cool to choose a sustainable lifestyle, or it is a nice life style.
In Japan, some large retail stores focus on sales of sustainable seafood. Cafeterias of large companies have started introducing sustainable seafood. More and more chefs are speaking out.
There is scarcely any sustainable seafood that is Marine Eco-Label certified, an international standard. Instead just grieving over the small number, or criticizing somebody in particular, I think it important to increase measures to take in cooperation while learning from successful cases.
I would like to leave the connection of the marine environment, fishing economy and local community in Japan to the next generation in a sound condition.
Major certification eco labels
Given to those meeting the standard of sustainable fishing stipulated by MSC (Marine Stewardship Council) based in U.K.
Certification system concerning aquaculture stipulated by ASC (Aquaculture Stewardship Council) based in the Netherlands
Stipulated by GAA (Global Aquaculture Alliance) based in the U.S.A. for hatchery, fish farms and processing plants in aquaculture
RFM Certification Certification
program “Responsible Fisheries Management (RFM) in Alaska” built by ASMI (Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute)
Wakao Hanaoka Founder/CEO, Seafood Legacy Co., Ltd.
Majored in marine environment and marine biology at a university in Florida. After graduation, he worked on marine environment protection in Maldives and Malaysia. He established and led the Japan Sustainable Seafood Project in international environment NGO as a senior campaigner in charge of marine ecological system from 2007. After he became independent, he established Seafood Legacy Co., Ltd. and assumed the office of CEO in Tokyo in July 2015 with the purpose of designing solutions fit for the Japanese environment.
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